Baby harp seal, Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Part 5: Canada (continued)

Isles de la Madeleine are a group of small islands connected by sand bars, located in Gulf of St. Lawrence between Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

Patterns of freezing sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence.
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Harp seal females and pups, Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Every year in late February or early March, hundreds of thousands of harp seals (Phoca groenlandica) haul out on ice floes south from the islands to give birth and mate. Of the three major breeding areas, this is the largest and the most accessible one. (The other two are the White Sea, Russia, and Jan Mayen Island area). Getting to see them isn't cheap, but it's one of the best things to do on this planet.seals seals
Harp seal females and pups, Gulf of St. Lawrence.
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Flying in a small helicopter over the frozen sea is part of the fun.
Author with a baby seal, south from
Iles de la Madeleine.
Helicopters can be hired at Iles de la Madeleine, Newfoundland, or Prince Edward I. Distances and prices vary depending on the location of ice floes with seal herds, but usually it's easier to find a chopper at Iles de la Madeleine.
Harp seal family, aerial view.
Refueling a helicopter,
Isles de la Madeleine.
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Some baby seals don't like being handled, but others obviously enjoy it.
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Harp seal pups of various age.
During two weeks of nursing, the
baby seal grows to 100 lb/45 kg.

Harp seals are fast swimmers, and migrate for up to 6,000 miles/9,600 km to get to their breeding areas. After being nursed for about two weeks, the newborn baby is abandoned, and spends up to 20 days alone on the ice, waiting until it sheds its white coat, and becomes silvery-gray with dark spots. The coloration keeps changing with each moult (adult seals moult in April), until the spots disappear and harp-like stripes form. This black-and-white pattern is especially bright and beautiful in adult males. Seals mostly feed on small Arctic fish such as capulin.
Even as small babies, harp seals
have gorgeous whiskers.
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Harp seal male (top), and females of various age.
seal seal seal Sleeping baby seals. Although many pups perish during the first days of life, their brief icy childhood is still supposed to be a happy break before years of dangerous life in the frozen sea. But hundreds of thousands are killed every year in Russia (where it's strictly for profit) and in Canada (where it's just a manifestation of local chauvinism and ignorance). It's the largest slaughter of wild animals in the world. Proponents of seal hunt blame the seals for slow recovery of cod stocks, which have crashed due to overfishing decades ago. As usual, fishermen never accept the blame for depleting fish stocks, and look for scapegoats. seal seal seal Sleeping baby seals.
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Curious females sometimes come to investigate you when you play with babies, but won't bite you as long as you don't look threatening.
Male hooded seals have a strange
organ called baloon, an inflatable
nose resonator. Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Another species, hooded seal (Cystophoca cristata), is much more difficult to see in the Gulf, which is the southern limit of its Arctic range.
Hooded seal pups are weaned after only four days of nursing - the shortest time of all mammals, but they gain 15 lb/7 kg per day during that period. Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Baby hooded seals shed their white
coats before birth, and are born with
blue fir. Gulf of St. Lawrence
gulls gulls gulls gulls
Numerous gulls (Larus marinus, L. hyperboreus, L. islandicus, L. smithsonianus) feed at seal haulouts on the ice.

Baby harp seal, Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Part 6: South America
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